January 2, 2012

Should We Terraform Mars? (Source: Physorg)
As we continue to explore farther out into our solar system and beyond, the question of habitation or colonization inevitably comes up. Manned bases on the Moon or Mars for example, have long been a dream of many. There is a natural desire to explore as far as we can go, and also to cextend humanity’s presence on a permanent or at least semi-permanent basis. In order to do this, however, it is necessary to adapt to different extreme environments. On the Moon for example, a colony must be self-sustaining and protect its inhabitants from the airless, harsh environment outside.

Mars, though, is different. While future bases could adapt to the Martian environment as well, there is also the possibility of modifying the surrounding environment instead of just co-existing with it. This is the process of terraforming – essentially trying to tinker with Mars’ atmosphere and environment to make it more Earth-like. Although still a long ways off technologically, terraforming the Red Planet is seen as a future possibility. Perhaps the bigger question is, should we? Click here. (1/2)

What a $200,000 Ticket to Space Buys You (Source: El Paso Inc.)
Virgin Galactic hopes to offer passenger flights to space as early as 2013. Almost 500 people have put down deposits. So what do you get for $200,000? We asked Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, who will be one of the first to go into space right before commercial operations begin. The experience begins long before the five minutes of weightlessness in space, the two-hour flight and the four-day training program. Ticket holders immediately gain access to private events held by Sir Richard Branson at some of his residences around the world. "It's almost like buying into a club," Whitesides says.

The training begins four days before the launch at Spaceport America. On day one, space tourists meet the pilot who plays a key role in guiding them through the next few days of rigorous space training, Whitesides says. On day two, training begins with a trip in an airplane that performs high-G turns so the space tourists can experience what it will feel like when their rocket ignites and they reach Mach 3 to 4 in seconds. Then comes the classroom instruction, including emergency procedures, spacecraft familiarization, and tips on how to be comfortable in micro gravity.

"You have a limited time in space so we really want people to get the most out of that experience," Whitesides says. While some might just look out the window and take pictures, others might do some tricks, like throwing balls in the air. "There are a whole bunch of different things, but we want to help people choreograph those precious moments in space," he says. On day three, the space tourists experience brief periods of weightlessness by flying on planes making parabolic dives. "That is really important, because we are going to be letting people get out of their seats in space," Whitesides says. (1/2)

Editorial: Streamline Regulations to Spur Privatization (Source: Florida Today)
I am a NASA brat. I also worked for 10 years for a not-for-profit aerospace research company. I have the highest respect for those who have spent their careers winning the space race. But it is time to ramp up an entrepreneurial privatization of our nation’s space effort. It is important to note that our space program has been a public/private partnership for most of its existence.

This collaboration must continue. But right now, our national space policy is muddled. Are we going to continue to support the International Space Station? Are we going to Mars? Are we going to an asteroid? Is NASA going to become a de facto arm of the Environmental Protection Agency? And where will the money come from? Several companies are investing millions of dollars to design and build vehicles to take payloads and people into space. We ought to be encouraging these ventures, especially on the Space Coast.

But there is an elephant in the room: public safety regulations. It is expensive to meet all of the criteria necessary to ensure a rocket doesn’t fall on Merritt Island or somewhere in Africa when things launch from the Eastern Range. Are all of the regulations necessary? Make no mistake. We have a very safe space program because of many dedicated people. But to encourage private investment, we have to make room for profit. Our Florida congressional delegation should insist NASA and the Air Force take a serious look at whether public safety regulations can be streamlined. (1/2)

Countdown to FAA Spaceflight Regulatory Change (Source: Space Politics)
In 2004, President George W. Bush signed into law the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act (CSLAA), including a provision that restricts the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) from enacting safety regulations except for cases linked to the “serious or fatal injury” of crew or participants, or events that “posed a high risk” of such injuries, during licensed or permitted flights. According to the law, that restriction expires eight years after the law’s enactment, or December 23, 2012, just under one year from now.

The restriction was intended to allow the industry to build up experience upon which future safety regulations could be based. However, the industry was developed far more slowly than anticipated. There has, in fact, been no crewed commercial suborbital flights since the final SpaceShipOne flight on October 4, 2004, although developments by Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace, and others suggest that such flights could occur in 2012. This has led to calls from some in the industry for some kind of extension to the current restriction before it expires next December.

There is, in fact, legislative language to provide an extension: the House version of the FAA reauthorization bill (HR 658) includes a provision changing that moratorium from eight years from enactment to eight years from the first licensed flight of a spaceflight participant. The House passed that bill at the beginning of April, but it has been stuck in limbo ever since, awaiting a conference with the Senate version (S. 223), which does not include such a provision. (12/30)

FAA Prefers Capability to Enact New Spaceflight Regulations, If Needed (Source: Space Politics)
The FAA has expressed opposition to any extension of the current moratorium on new spaceflight safety regulations. “We are not in favor of an extension of the moratorium,” said FAA/AST senior attorney Laura Montgomery in October. Letting the moratorium expire would give the office the flexibility to act if the need arose, something that she said is missing now. “Right now, our hands are tied. Even if there was something that was obviously foreseeable that we would want to do something about to protect a participant, we can’t.”

At the same event, Courtney Graham of NASA’s Office of General Counsel said that NASA didn’t have a position on a potential extension. However, she suggested that, at least for commercial orbital spaceflight, where NASA is likely to be a major customer, the industry might prefer that the moratorium expire. Otherwise, she cautioned, NASA will be the only agency setting regulations for crewed vehicles. “The NASA requirements are going to be the default for the industry for the foreseeable future” in such a scenario, she said. “It’s really hard to say where the flexibility in [vehicle] design is going to be if you don’t know what the FAA is going to end up with” for its regulations. (12/30)

‘Moon’ Is Not A Four-Letter Word for Hawaii Initiative (Source: Moon And Back)
What is the most innovative and sustainable way to approach space research, education, and commerce beyond low Earth orbit? Those were the themes of the recent International Lunar Research Park (ILRP) Leader’s Summit, which I with support from the Silicon Valley Space Club and State of Hawaii. While last year’s meeting dealt with identifying the “what”, this year’s meeting focused on the “how” aspects in the context of a research park. Developed first as a terrestrial prototype in Hawaii, this research park could later expand to the Moon.

Ever since President Obama quipped, “We’ve been there before” in reference to the Moon during his April 2010 speech cancelling the NASA Constellation Program, the lunar research and exploration community has been scrambling to erase the notion that the Moon is a ‘been there, done that’ kind of world. The summit featured an overview of the ILRP concept as an international public-private research park consortium based in Hilo, Hawaii utilizing the PICSES field site on the flank of Mauna Kea. Over a period of years, this would lead to a lunar “robotic village” and a permanent human outpost on the Moon. Click here. (1/2)

NASA Opening Competition for Space Taxi Development (Source: Florida Today)
NASA in February plans to open competition for a third round of funding to further development of private spacecraft that could taxi astronauts to the International Space Station later this decade. The request for proposals will reflect the revised contracting strategy announced in December. NASA changed its approach to account for the $406 million its Commercial Crew Program received this year — less than half what NASA requested from Congress.

The limited funding and uncertain outlook for future years raised the likelihood that only one company might emerge to provide a viable crew transportation service. That outcome would have undermined program goals to reduce costs and spur a market for flights of non-NASA crews. “The main premise of (NASA’s) procurement approach to control costs — competition — may no longer be viable,” the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported last month.

NASA agreed, scrapping its original plan to award 21-month contracts this summer that hoped to complete designs for at least two crew commercial systems. Instead, in July or August, the program will sign a new set of Space Act Agreements that agree to pay multiple companies incrementally as they meet technical milestones over a still undetermined period of time. (1/2)

Most Anticipated Space Missions of 2012 (Source: Discovery)
Click here for a photo essay of the most anticipated space missions of 2012, including GRAIL, Venus Flyby, Curiosity's Mars mission, Cassini's extended mission, Dawn's mission to Ceres, and MESSENGER's extended mission at Mercury. And click here for a look-ahead at human spaceflight in 2012. (1/2)

Space 2012: What’s Blasting Off This Year (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Forecasting the pace of private spaceflight’s ascent has proven exceedingly difficult. Back in late 2004, when Burt Rutan’s and Paul Allen’s SpaceShipOne won the X-prize by flying into space twice in a two-week period, it looked like perhaps in just a few short years there would be dozens or even hundreds of private citizens experiencing true spaceflight.

Seven years later, though, there are still no commercial flights available, and 2011 proved to be a drought year: After the shining success of SpaceX successfully orbiting and recovering its Dragon capsule at the end of 2010, a first for private space, not much really happened this year (aside from a mini-spat with NASA over who gets to decide what about spaceship design).

But 2012 promises to be much more interesting, and to finally see the progress that many have been waiting for after seven years—starting with SpaceX heading to the International Space Station. Click here. Editor's Note: Remember the "X-PRIZE CUP", an annual event that was called a 'must-win' by the Florida Space Authority's board? New Mexico won the competition to host the event, which was supposed to include an annual fly-off among space tourism vehicles. Don't expect another one of these in 2012. (1/2)

ATK Two-Year Layoffs Number 1,600 (Source: Cache Valley Daily)
As 2011 comes to a close the 234 Alliant Tech Systems employees laid off this year brings the total number of employees let go at ATK the last two years to 1,600. There were two rounds of layoffs in 2011, one in April and again in August. Both were a reduction in force as the company closes the shuttle program. (1/2)

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